By MATT GOURAS/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Two people with ties to Montana are among the four semifinalists vying to become the state's new commissioner of higher education.
James Kaze, a Havre lawyer and former member of the Board of Regents, and Sheila Stearns, former chancellor for the University of Montana-Western, are still in the running.
The list of candidates released Friday, which will be pared down to two finalists at next week's Board of Regents meeting in Great Falls, also includes the former executive director of the California university system, Warren Fox, and William Fulkerson, former president of the State Colleges of Denver.
The board has said it will privately interview the semifinalists before picking the final two candidates. A decision on who should be offered the job could be made at the regents' July meeting after extensive interviews with the finalists.
Both Kaze and Stearns played up their Montana roots in their applications, while pointing out that they would be capable of leading a university system that hasn't received as much state support as it has wanted in recent years.
''I am a known quantity, a Montanan, and, I hope, of known quality,'' Kaze wrote to the board, of which he was a governor-appointed member from 1986 to 1998.
Since 1978, Kaze has worked with the law firm of Bosch, Kuhr, Dugdale, Martin & Kaze. Since 1992 he has also served as the Havre city attorney.
The Board of Regents has voiced an interest in getting a commissioner capable of dealing with the governor and lawmakers during tough budgetary times.
Kaze said he will bring a new perspective to higher education, despite his long tenure as a regent.
''Now, as always, is the time for change,'' he wrote. ''It is time to refocus on the (university system's) core existence and functions.''
Stearns, currently the president at Wayne State College in Nebraska, worked in the Montana university system from 1979 to 1999.
''My Montana roots are deep and extend throughout the state,'' she wrote in her application. ''From my hometown in Glendive to my grandparents' homestead in Highwood, I have had the opportunity to make friends for the Montana University System all across the state.''
She said she has helped lead Wayne State through budget cuts, an experience that helped prepare her to be Montana's commissioner.
Fox currently is the scholar-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley. He said running the California university system - talking to lawmakers, the governor and the press - primed him for the job in Montana.
''I have extensive experience in legislative relations,'' Fox wrote in his application.
He also said he has visited Montana many times.
''I enjoy the quality of life of this area of the West and am familiar with the challenges facing higher education in Montana,'' he said.
Fulkerson has experience at universities stretching back to the 1960s, and said he welcomes the opportunity to help Montana guide its university system through a time of budget cuts and increasing tuition costs.
''It is a daunting task to combine economic concerns in a time of student growth and intended expansion of opportunities for Montana citizens,'' he wrote. ''Yet, those challenges are the exact reason why I am interested in the commissioner position.''
The person chosen for the job will replace Carroll Krause, who was named interim commissioner in January after Richard Crofts announced plans to retire. Crofts held the job for 6 years.